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One hundred years ago today, The New York City sky was the same "unbelievable blue," to use Bruce Springsteen's phrase, that it would be eight decades later on 9/11. Almost instantly, however, the air was black with smoke, the street red with blood. A horse-drawn wagon with a covered cargo pulled up in front of the J.P. Morgan building at 23 Wall St., near the intersection with Broad Street, a place known simply as The Corner.

The House of Morgan, as historian Ron Chernow wrote, "spoke to foreign governments as the official voice of the American capital markets." It stood, in the same way that the Twin Towers did, as a symbol of American economic might.

Precisely at noon on Sept. 16, 1920 -- witnesses were certain of the time because they could still hear the echoes of the 12 o'clock bells at Trinity Church -- the driver of the wagon dropped the reins and ran away. Seconds later, dynamite exploded with a fury.

* * *

The 1920 Wall Street bombing was almost certainly the work of Italian anarchists, perhaps as retaliation for the 1919 deportation of Luigi Galleani and eight of his followers after a wave of bombings by radicals intent on fomenting revolution.

Yet the blood that ran down Wall Street belonged mostly to working-class people -- messenger boys, clerks, lower-rung stockbrokers, and utterly unsuspecting passersby. The scene was barbaric and gruesome.

"As I gazed horrorstruck at the sight, one of these forms, half-naked and seared with burns, started to rise," wrote George Weston, an Associated Press reporter who witnessed the bombing. "It struggled, then toppled and fell lifeless to the gutter."

Thirty-eight people perished, hundreds were wounded, many grievously. The attack, wrote The Washington Post in a harbinger of 9/11, was "an act of war." But except for the garrison of the 22nd U.S. Army Infantry, which rushed to the scene of the crime from their barracks on Governor's Island, along with 1,700 New York policemen, no other troops were dispatched. The Wall Street bombing did not lead to a shooting war.

Trading was halted on the floor of the stock exchange, but only for the rest of that day. The bodies and debris were cleaned up so rapidly some investigators worried that evidence had been lost. The crime was never solved. And Wall Street was up and running the very next morning. Broken windows were covered with canvas. Some of the brokers and clerks were bandaged and traumatized. But they were there. Trading was high, not out of greed but out of a sense of defiance and national pride.

"Destructive as it was, the 1920 bomb that exploded in Wall Street's heart did not halt the rise of our new financial capital," economic writer Daniel Gross noted after 9/11. He added that the attacks backfired in the most literal way: "The bombing -- and the overwhelming popular response to it -- helped to humanize Wall Street."

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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